The 2022 NFL Draft is tantalizingly close. But before the next crop of players enters the league, I wanted to present one final mock draft -- one last attempt at projecting how the picks in Round 1 will play out.
He occupied the top spot in each of my previous mock draft exercises, and at the time they were posted, it felt like a bit of a surprise. But now this picks feels real. Jags general manager Trent Baalke sees the gifts, traits and all-out effort of this former Bulldog and brings him to Jacksonville. DUUUUUVAL!
This selection is brought to you by the good people in Central Casting: Michigan Branch. Seen by most as the top player in the draft, Hutchinson is exactly what the Lions organization is seeking as they continue to build the franchise the way GM Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell want, adding great players who hold themselves accountable in every way. The expectation will be for Hutchinson to notch double-digit sacks each season.
Houston GM Nick Caserio makes a big decision to give the Texans' quarterback (at this point, second-year pro Davis Mills) help with this pick -- and he makes an even bigger decision to go with the road-grader from N.C. State over Alabama OT Evan Neal.
Head coach Robert Saleh's "All Gas, No Brake" mantra gets a new pledge member in Gardner, who did nothing but get better and better throughout his college career. Now he's poised to be the CB1 for a building defense.
New GM Joe Schoen will love that this youngster is the best pass protector of the OT prospects in this class -- and Schoen will also expect Cross to surprise people with his run-game blocking.
I've been stuck on the Panthers taking a QB in this spot (namely, Malik Willis of Liberty). I'm officially unstuck. Here, an all-star from Alabama brings his talent, versatility and winning ways to Charlotte. Running back Christian McCaffrey is surely smiling.
The Giants get better along both lines with their two top-10 picks. This former Oregon star, talented enough to be the first overall selection, takes to the New York Metropolitan area like a duck to ... Sorry, my bad. In any event, 10 or more sacks will be the expectation in Year 1.
Receiver is a screaming need for the Falcons in the wake of Calvin Ridley's indefinite suspension. But so is pass-rushing help, given that Atlanta has struggled to disrupt opposing QBs for years. The ACC Defensive Player of the Year has the potential to ultimately be an All-Pro, and he's good against the run, too.
To me, Stingley is the most talented CB in this draft. Once he showed the league that he was healed and ready at his pro day earlier this month -- after undergoing Lisfranc surgery last September and missing most of the 2021 season -- he vaulted back into top-10 territory. The Seahawks are really focused on improving their defense, and this selection helps them speed up the process.
The Jets got faster on the perimeter last year with the selection of Elijah Moore out of Ole Miss (No. 34 overall). Now, they add more big-play potential with the former Trojan who knows how to operate both outside the numbers and from the slot. Zach Wilson will appreciate the wider strike zone that London provides.
This selection would surely be made with the blessing of -- or as the result of begging by? -- current Commanders WR1 Terry McLaurin. These former Buckeyes in tandem would really give new QB Carson Wentz an excellent chance at recapturing his former glory. It was very tough to not ink Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton here, but "Scary Terry" has earned the right to some big-time (and familiar) assistance.
The Vikings could use help on the back end as they continue to seek ways to slow down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in the NFC North, and they get it here with this smooth, tough CB who will accept all challenges that come his way. Having veteran star Patrick Peterson back in the fold to show McDuffie the ropes will certainly help, too.
By now, it's well established that this impressive young man (besides the athletic prowess, he's a member of Mensa International) is my favorite player in the draft. He'll have a full plate in Houston as the Texans use him in a multitude of ways in their scheme.
Yes, I still strongly considered Iowa's Tyler Linderbaum (the top center) here. I also considered a CB in this spot. But with the All-American DT from Georgia still available, I couldn't pass up on him. Davis gets a year to learn from Calais Campbell and improve his conditioning so that he becomes the true three-down terror he's capable of being.
It's never a bad idea to add receivers from Alabama! DeVonta Smith was a marvel as a rookie after the Eagles took him 10th overall out of 'Bama last year. Williams would be another tremendous target who creates splash plays downfield and stretches defenses vertically. QB Jalen Hurts will have a chance to cement his position as the Eagles' leader for years to come.
The loss of left tackle Terron Armstead to free agency spurs this pick. Penning has a strong chance to fit in as the opening-day starter on an already excellent offensive line. The Chargers, who pick next, surely also have their eye on Penning. If he falls to them on Thursday night, the Bolts can slot the nasty tackle on the right side opposite Pro Bowl LT Rashawn Slater.
The Chargers added some good D-linemen in the free agency period -- but that doesn't mean they'll stand pat here when a game-wrecker with some pass-rush juice becomes available. Wyatt should provide excellent interior play from Day 1. A receiver could be considered here, as well.
The Eagles got their receiver with their first selection of the round. Now, they get the CB they covet, someone who can play opposite Darius Slay. On film, Booth looks like he would be comfortable in any system; he would adapt well to Philly's zone-heavy scheme.
Sometimes the board falls to you. In this scenario, the Saints get their new LT at No. 16, then add blazing speed here to back up opposing secondaries. With Olave in the mix, former All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas will get more room to operate, and that's bad news for the DBs on other teams.
The Steelers did as much visible work on QBs as any team in the draft. Here, they make the first selection of a signal-caller in 2022. With veteran Mitch Trubisky already in Pittsburgh and likely to be the starter in 2022, Willis will get a chance to acclimate to the pro game. I could see Willis, Najee Harris and Diontae Johnson forming a really dynamic trio in the future. Kevin Colbert sets the table for the future at QB in his final draft as general manager.
With a few options available here for the Patriots, I focused on the defensive side. CB is a possibility, and I see Washington's Kyler Gordon as a great fit, but New England has always had that dominant leader at linebacker (think Tedy Bruschi and Jerod Mayo). Lloyd could be Dont'a Hightower's replacement as a leader and playmaker.
The record shows that it's been 20 years since the Packers drafted a receiver in Round 1, suggesting they will pass on the chance to select a target for Aaron Rodgers with either of their first-round picks this year. But the ability to add a player who can do exactly what Packers head coach Matt LaFleur wants -- that is to say, "Take the top off a defense" -- denotes a change in course.
Arizona's receiving corps took a hit with the loss of Christian Kirk in free agency. Adding this power-forward-esque player to QB Kyler Murray's arsenal is a strong move. Burks can be the Cardinals' version of what Deebo Samuel has been for the 49ers.
Bookend him with All-Pro guard Zack Martin. Green, who stays in his home state here, should be able to start for the Cowboys on opening day.
I've gone from receiver to cornerback for the Bills in previous mocks, and now I'm slotting a running back to them. All positions are potential areas of need, and the CB spot really has my attention, especially with Tre'Davious White coming back from knee surgery. But I also strongly believe that head coach Sean McDermott wants to run the ball with more regularity and authority, and to take some runs (and hits) off the plate of QB Josh Allen. This former Cyclone fits the bill.
The Titans can go a number of ways here: add another pass rusher, snag a cornerback, select a receiver if the right one falls to them -- or, in a big wild-card move, they could take a QB. How about continuing to upgrade the offensive line? Johnson is a great fit for a run-heavy team.
I really wanted to send Michigan pass rusher David Ojabo to new Bucs head coach (and defensive guru) Todd Bowles, but in light of the unfortunate Achilles injury Ojabo suffered at his pro day, the secondary gets the nod. Elam has a strong frame and is a fluid mover; he'd be a stout cover guy in the man scheme favored by Bowles.
The Packers lost edge rusher Za'Darius Smith in free agency. This former Boilermaker is relentless when it comes to applying pressure on QBs, and his sack totals will only increase over time. Tulsa offensive lineman Tyler Smith could be a possibility here.
Though he's listed as a safety, Hill has the speed and skill set to be a nickel defender and a pure CB. Kansas City is in need of help in the secondary, and the Chiefs will quickly find a variety of ways for him to contribute.
Yes, despite the additions of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdez-Scantling, wide receiver is still a need in Kansas City, and the Chiefs fill it here with Moore, who brings plenty of speed and toughness to the field. If they choose to double down on defense in Round 1, they could gamble a bit by selecting David Ojabo and waiting for him to heal; they could also look to another promising Big Ten edge rusher, like Penn State's Arnold Ebiketie or Minnesota riser Boye Mafe.
The Bengals did a wonderful (and necessary) job upgrading their offensive line in free agency, and here's an excellent spot for them to do the same with their secondary. I think Gordon has been overlooked to an extent during the run-up to the draft, but he will have an immediate effect on coordinator Lou Anarumo's defense.
This has been a QB landing spot in my prior attempts to decipher this draft, and while it's very tempting to go with a defender here, it would be a wonderful place for Pickett to learn behind Jared Goff. Going QB at No. 32 means Detroit will have the fifth-year option in play with Pickett's rookie contract. That said, don't overlook the fact that Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean would be a perfect fit for the culture head coach Dan Campbell is trying to establish.